Snowcapped mountains and emerald forests and valleys; rocky cliffs and cerulean seas; sand dunes, salt fields, hot springs and palm trees. What do all of these things have in common? You can find them in Japan. The natural beauty of the country is only a fraction of the great amusements that make Japan one of the best places in the world to travel. For a number of reasons, like sprawling forests, delicious food and immersive cultural experiences, Japan has something for everyone, making it an ideal location for vacations and life-altering journeys.
The Great Outdoors
Japan is more than Tokyo and Kyoto—the two biggest tourist focal points on the island nation. The sheer amount of outdoor activities that span from the northern most reaches of Hokkaido to the crystalline waters of Okinawa will delight travelers who seek more than city. The sights and experiences connected to nature also show how Japanese culture is reliant on the natural world. A striking balance has been found between urbanization and the planet Earth.
Some of the fantastic sights are as follows:
- Hokkaido – Famous for winter skiing, snow and beer festivals, Hokkaido is gorgeous even in the summer and spring. Places like the Furano Lavender Farm, Aoiike Pond near Shirogane Onsen, and the Unkai Terrace (also known as the Sea of Clouds) near Tomamu Resort are just a few locations that give Hokkaido a kaleidoscope effect throughout the year. You will be amazed by the beauty at every turn.
- Tohoku – Not only does the northern region of Honshu, Japan’s main island, feature mountains and valleys befitting fantasy movie backdrops, everything is highly accessible. For those who love hiking, Mount Zao and Mount Katta in Miyagi Prefecture have craters and onsen, as well as the esteemed Zao Fox Village. In Iwate Prefecture, you can take a voyage around the cliffs or feast on nabe (Japanese hotpot) while drifting down the Satetsu River. There is also the Bandai-Kogen highlands in Fukushima that has over 40 lakes of different colors and scenery within walking distance from one another.
- Kinki – Located to the west of Kanto, the Kinki or Kansai region boasts some of the coolest scenery on Honshu. Mountains are everywhere, and there are famous shrines to find amongst the natural setting. One of those peaks is Mount Ibuki in Shiga Prefecture. Other famous summits in the same prefecture are Bunagatake, Horaisan and Uchimi. At the foothills of these mountains are 359 terraced rice paddies that are highly photogenic.
Of course, there is a lot more to mention, like the beaches of Shikoku Island and Okinawa, the sunrise from Mount Fuji’s summit, the seven Hells of Beppu, and the sand dunes of Tottori. Japan might be only a sliver of land comparable to the size of America’s California state, but it is not one defined climate. Because of that, the flora and fauna is as varied as the people are. And that fact alone is amazing.
The Edible Adventures
Foodies will not leave the country hungry. Japan has a gift when it comes to culinary enterprises. No matter the city, there is a specialty that you need to taste. Also, the view of dining with family and friends is considered priceless time in Japan, and so if you have the chance, you can see food and relationships in an entirely new way. It is eye-opening and deeply satisfying—for both the mind and body.
Check out these places in Japan for not only the incredible eats:
- Nakasu, Fukuoka – The region’s ultimate pit-stop for foodstuff. Over 2000 restaurants, bars and nightclubs have been jam-packed onto a street that is only 1.5 km (1 mile) long.
- Ureshino Onsen, Saga – The boiled tofu, called yudofu, from this region is the best in Japan. And you can only get it at Ureshino, because the alkalinity of this specific hot spring makes the tofu extremely mellow and digestible.
- Kochi Prefecture, Shikoku – The landscape of this land is nutrient-rich and makes for delicious land and seafood. Whether you are a meat-eater or vegetarian, Kochi has something for you: Tosa beef (0.1% of all wagyu beef comes from Tosa, making it a rare delicacy); katsuo no tataki (seared bonito served with scallions and garlic); Shimanto sweetfish (smell like watermelon when cooking); and Kochi sake, a special brew that the locals drink regularly.
- Dotonbori, Osaka – Also known as the Minami Shopping Arcade and home to the Glico Running Man, Dotonbori is where you go to feast on Kansai dishes and Takoyaki. Here you can also find the Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum!
The Unique Culture
Perhaps the biggest component in what makes Japan a phenomenal place to visit is the culture. Despite being known for anime, manga and ninja, the country has maintained its reverent connection to its history. Traditional customs have been interwoven into the present and continue to influence the future. No matter where you go in Japan, you will see reflections of the older days. Apart from museums and similar institutions, the preservation of ruins, buildings and gardens has given the land a stunning appearance.
Head to these locations to see Edo-period mixed with modern times:
- Kyoto – The old capital of the island nation, Kyoto has castles, ninja houses, shrines and temples that date back thousands of years.
- Sendai – Along the river that cuts through the city, you will find preserved samurai estates. Some of them are open for tours throughout the year.
- Kamakura and Enoshima – Located outside of Yokohama in the Tokyo region, these two places are a mix of island life, Edo-period aesthetic and an air of enlightenment. Plus, Enoshima is one of Japan’s “cat islands.”
- Nagoya – At the center of Nagoya city is a magnificent castle that emanates the samurai era.
Secondly, the Japanese have a way with hospitality. Staying at a ryokan, or traditional hotel, will give you a glimpse into how the Japanese give their guests royal treatment. But any type of hotel will have staff that is willing to go the extra step to ensure you are happy. However, this way of thinking is not limited to the resort or ryokan where you choose to stay.
Those who are receptive to Japanese culture and want to learn are welcomed warmly. Here are some places where you will feel like you are part of the Emperor’s clan while learning facets of Japanese culture and history:
- Asakusa, Kanto region – One of the few places left in the Tokyo Metropolitan area with ryokan that have been in operation since the Edo period.
- Toyama and Ishikawa, Chubu region – These places are known for the onsen and continued study of traditional Japanese arts and crafts. You can stay at an onsen resort, watch Noh theatre shows, and purchase (or even make) Kutaniyaki ceramics and Yuzen silks.
Thirdly, if you do love anime, manga, and the world of Japanese fashion, then what are you waiting for? Anime and manga are fabulously popular with every age group. From decorations on trains and subways to movies, posters and advertisements featuring your favorite character, you will see influences of the art form everywhere. Shibuya and Harajuku are the key locations in Tokyo, but you will also find a different view of trends in Kyoto and Fukuoka.
So why is Japan awesome? Because it has something for everyone of any age. Those who love fitness and outdoor adventures, birdwatching and skiing will find unlimited nature walks and mountains to scale. Surfers will dive into the waves in Shikoku. For travelers seeking relaxation, Japan has numerous hot springs and resorts built just for that purpose. Kids and kids at heart will be delighted by the sheer amount of attractions and amusement parks. A warm smile, slight bow, and a sincere “welcome”—that is Japan, and it is the best.